A pod of 14 sperm whales spotted off North Berwick late last week, and thought to be heading at the time towards Fife, is the largest group ever seen in the North Sea and one of the largest pods ever seen off the UK coast – according to marine research and conservation charity Sea Watch Foundation.
Sea Watch has the largest and longest running sightings database in Europe. According to its records, other large groups in Scotland included 11 on 7 December 1994 at Sanday, Orkney; up to 17 in late November 1996 near Stornoway, Isle of Lewis; 12-14 on 14 July 1998 in the Fair Isle Channel, and a group of nine near the mouth of the River Spey, Moray Firth on 19 November 2006.
The sighting was reported to the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick, an official Sea Watch Foundation National Whale and Dolphin Watch site 2013, by microlight pilots from East of Scotland Microlights. Their photographs, taken from a height of 500ft, show that most, if not all, are immatures, probably young males. From the Isle of May, they were last seen heading past Fife Ness and out towards the North Sea. The sperm whales had been spotted also by Scottish Natural Heritage Reserve Manager, David Pickett and others from the Isle of May in the Firth of Forth.
Sea Watch director, Dr Peter Evans, says: “There have been reports of unusually large numbers of squid – their main prey – off the Scottish coast In recent years including this winter, and this may well have attracted the group into the North Sea.
“We are alerting all our observers to watch for them. Ideally we are hoping that people will be able to take pictures of their tails as they dive. We will then try to match those with records of sperm whales held in the Caribbean (where they breed) and the records of those seen in the North Atlantic from Norway and the Azores to see whether any individuals have previously been recorded in these waters.”
Pictures of the tails of any of the sperm whale diving should be sent to: email@example.com
Comparisons of tail flukes of sperm whales spotted in February on the west coast of Scotland between Loch Torridon and South Rona failed to find any matches with other sperm whales seen in the North Atlantic. The following month, a sperm whale spent some days close to Oban Harbour.
Dr Evans said: “This is an exciting opportunity to observe sperm whale in the region. If anyone can get pictures of their tail flukes when they fluke-up before diving (ideally from directly behind) then we would be able to check for matches with animals elsewhere in the Atlantic and to check if they return again in subsequent years, thus helping us to build up a picture of population trends for the species in UK waters. This year we have already recorded more sperm whales in the region than ever before. Whether or not this is due to the presence of lots of squid remains to be proven. And we need to collect data over time to determine whether or not there is a longer-term trend towards more sperm whales off the UK coast.”